I have been attracted to the sea, drawn and almost hypnotized by it from the earliest age I can remember. As a result it was always my dream to work on it, in it, or, at the very least, with it. This has not changed over the last 70 years though opportunity is now steadily slipping away, as I enter my eighth bonus year after my allotted three score plus ten! In addition, for most of my working years it has been one way or the other, the source of my income. You are truly blessed when you can earn your daily bread in the environment about which you are passionate. Certainly the sea and its Marine Resources have been my passion and my mistress for my whole life!
I have spent most of my time in, or associated with the fishing industry so can claim certain expertise and knowledge in that regard. I therefore decry and am driven to desolation over the state of affairs that that these government departments responsible for this hugely important resource now find themselves. The necessity of social politics coupled with government incompetence ably assisted in recent years by the inexplicable cabinet decision to split the responsibility for these most important natural resources between two departments, has been the cause of this. This has unfortunately been further enhanced these past few years by arguably the most incompetent and inappropriate minister appointed to head up DAFF.
This all begs the question of how to be proactive and plan to correct the current situation before it is too late, and even more is lost. It can be done, but it will take a very substantial change of heart by the Cabinet to start this process. I surely do not need to repeat in detail the litany of woes, mostly caused by impatience and poor decision/making by them in their wish that overrides all sane thinking to correct the wrongs of the past, some perceived, but some imagined, with some created untruths solely to cover up their own shortcomings. Surely they must know how unnecessary and impractical affirmative action has hurt all South Africa’s peoples, driving away thousands whose skills we desperately needed to retain, allowing unrestrained nepotism to place so many persons in positions they had no right nor competence to hold, and creating a climate of both opportunity and the stimulus leading to totally unacceptable levels of corruption.
Of course they did not invent corruption and nepotism. It occurs worldwide in all the halls of power, particularly political power. But elsewhere it is controlled by the appropriate responses by the democratic governing power, their judicial system, and effective policing. Our government’s need to create sufficient jobs, let alone the false promises in respect thereof, was always going to be a tall order, but was it necessary to kill the golden goose of existing job structures by all the above. In trying to achieve that impossible goal in the short term, one must look to any way of using what we have, such as our Marine resources. Let us then consider the old adage, slightly amended in this instance, giving just for a day, or teaching and allowing a fisherman to use his skills and experience to feed his family in a manner that is both appropriate and sustainable. With this in mind, I have no quarrel with the principle of individual or community access as contemplated by the new legislation, however, only again where appropriate and sustainable.
Let’s then keep it simple and accept that in many instances the bullet of priority needs will have to be bitten. Talking about priority needs, I cannot fail to remember what a horrific mistake was made, irrespective of what anyone says and claims, to have wasted the billions on defense expenditure. Clearly 90 or more of this has been simply a waste of money and effort in order apparently to have enriched those few that it did, including the governing party. How much more important would it have been to have used such funds to train the many thousands needed to create the right circumstances for affirmative action to succeed, rather than fail. Surely that would have been preferable to the false Utopian dreams which have turned into the opposite hell of our Defense Force, Eskom, the SAPS, Post Office, Transnet, Portnet, Telkom, most government departments, our education system, health system, and much more.
Let us also immediately accept that practical affirmative action has already adequately occurred, for the most
part, in an industry that has never put much store in the colour of a person’s skin but rather in the level of his
Clearly for practical social reasons related to informal job creation and the ability to feed oneself and one’s family, we need to accept the principle of allowing many more people minimal but practical access to all resources in their reach which obviously excludes most offshore species other than Line Fish. However this clearly opens up a can of worms when it comes to controlling this type of exploitation. Therefore the first major change that has to occur in the halls of the fisheries Department is the creation of a really effective compliance division far removed from and far exceeding their present level of ability.
This, the government must appreciate, is a non/negotiable, nor excusable in terms of their competence to create it. Although our government has brought upon themselves such inabilities by virtue of both affirmative action and nepotism, they have to depart the particular avenue of outsourcing so many of their needs.
In my eyes, even if they are somewhat dimmer than they were, it really can be reduced to some relatively simple changes. It might however not be that simple to get agreement to effect those changes in a fair manner in the light of the current situation regarding resource access and quota allocations, but it would have to be done. Whatever, a new approach must be developed.
Perhaps the next most important change of heart, which has recently seen some slight signs of acknowledgement, is the question of priorities. Firstly it needs to be acknowledged, both socially and economically, that the value of recreational fishing is very close to the value of commercial fishing, and may even exceed it. However for the purposes of job creation and GDP both are needed. Another very important point that needs to be remembered is that most of the newer sectors exploitation is going to be on the same resources exploited by the recreational sector, which resources are in most cases already over exploited. This then brings me to the point of noting that serious consideration needs to be given to which species of Line fish may be fully commercially exploited as many of them still fall within the same basket.
It is also essential that informal exploiters have their vessel and motor size severely restricted, and that all catch limits be carefully revisited. I will deal more fully with some possible proposals in the annexure referred to above.
What is patently obvious is that the present management regime has failed to halt the negative slide in the strength of these resources in most instances. Ironically, however, where present limitations over the past number of years in respect of Seventy four and Red Steenbras have had a noticeably positive effect, in the case of the former no discussion or change has been motivated. In the case of the latter, in typical Departmental inadequacy, the regulations have been strengthened, again with no discussion as required, with the result that the courts have overruled them. Against that scenario many species, in a more critical state than those two by far, do not enjoy enough protection including several that remain commercially exploitable!
Dealing with the question of species and fishing methods, only Kob, Geelbek, Yellowtail, Shark, Silvers, Pangas, Snoek, Hottentot, Hake, Baitfish, and maybe Slinger, Spanish mackerel, and Shad (Elf), should be the only species allowed to commercial line fishermen. All the rest should be transferred to the recreational list where the ban against selling same must be strictly applied to all sectors. In the same vein it seems to me that all inshore crayfish should only be caught with crayfish ring nets preferably from very small vessels. Then it would be relevant to limit crayfish trap boats, particularly of the inshore variety, to working outside a minimum distance from the coast.
In the interests of overall sustainability, and maintaining a compliance environment that is pragmatic, three types of fishing should certainly be excluded. They are trek and set netting, and fish traps. On the same basis the recreational and informal sectors should be banned from fishing from sunset to sunrise in all marine waters. Again on the basis of the compliance environment, I would like to suggest that size limits only apply to the commercial line fish sector. I have long believed, and there is much scientific evidence to support my view, that it is far better to remove juveniles than larger fish with the very much greater breeding ability. The question of the juvenile’s overall survival rate, let alone if he has been caught and released, is very uncertain. It would be far more relevant, where pragmatic and appropriate, to apply a maximum size limit in terms of the infinitely greater spawning capacity of a more mature, let alone fully grown specimen. Another so obvious change in our regulations required, again towards ensuring effective compliance, whilst also extending further protection for the individual resources, is the need to limit ALL commercial line fish exploitation activities to specific venues as presently applies to ALL other commercial resources. That implies the requirement to depart (launch) from a single licensed denominated place, and only be allowed to return to that place to dispose of your catch.
Many persons, particularly those with green and/or conservation mindedness, suggest that all recreational fishing should be on the basis of catch and release. This practice has grown apace this century all over the world and it is very encouraging to see this very important change of attitude manifesting itself more and more in our country in the Marine environment. However fishing is carried out recreationally for personal enjoyment and relaxation, and, for my part, nothing adds to this more than my ability and resultant pride to bring home a nice fish of a decent size with which to feed my family and even some of my friends. The converse of this are the many fisherman who wish to catch as much as they can, even if they cannot legally sell same, and will clearly resist the extremely necessary and considerable reduction in limits for the three relevant sectors. Apart from this C &; R must be encouraged in every way!
I have another personal proposal which perhaps tends to enter the realms of impracticality, particularly in view of what I have just recommended. I am reminded of the pleasure of going to certain restaurants or coastal hotels with the real intention of enjoying fresh and well prepared seafood. I have to emphasize “coastal” because to allow what I am going to suggest in a metropolitan or even small town environment would render compliance management impossible. However, where such a restaurant existed in a reasonably remote environment, could it be practical to grant an exceptional licensed to a well/qualified local fisherman to supply the needs of that establishment only to enable them to offer particularly the local fresh fruits of the Sea. No sale to any other person allowed; probably pre/agreed and approved prices; and only sales by the establishment of cooked and prepared product. Maybe an impractical pipe dream!!!